Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Bat-Cycles

In a previous posts, we introduced the idea of the 'persona-cycle' as a means for varying the characterization of long-running comic book icons, and explored how the idea applied to Superman.

Batman, of course, has his own cycles.

*Sigh*. No, not the Bat-cycle. I'm referring to Batman's personality cycling between vigilante/lawman, loner/paterfamilias, night/day, old look/new look.

If Batman's literary depiction were controlled by a giant sound mixing board, some of the "levels" that one could adjust to ones preference would be:

  • Sanction: Batman's degree of sanction/cooperation from law enforcement authorities
  • Chumminess: To what degree Batman acts alone or with partners, colleagues, and groups.
  • Diurnalism: The likelihood of Batman being seen in costume during the day.
  • Spookiness: To what degree Batman's costume is dark and scary.
  • Localism: To what degree Batman's sticks to Gotham as opposed to globetrotting.

You may be noticing that Batman's 'cycles' aren't nearly as independent of one another as Superman's are. That is, there's a much greater correlation between their "settings". If Batman set at a 'low level of sanction" (operating in defiance of or at least without contact with the police), he is much more like to be a lone vigilante (low level of Chumminess), operating exclusively at night (low level of Diurnalism) in darker costume (high level of Spookiness) in Gotham only (high level of Localism).

In many ways, all these "settings" tend to be secondary aspects of one major choice in which version of Batman to portray, specifically:

Happy Batman


Crabby Batman

Have you ever noticed that Happy Batman is often a lot creepier than Crabby Batman?

Batman's Crabbiness factor tends to determine the rest of his portrayal. However, it's not an absolute rule. For example, when Batman left the JLA to form the Outsider, or when he was in the JLI, he was pretty darned crabby... but had a high level of chumminess because he was working very actively with others.

But there are some other "levels" to Batman's depiction that operate more independently, such as:

  • Villainism: the degree to which Batman is fighting costumed villains as opposed to regular crooks
  • Mundanism: the degree to which Batman's world is non-fantastical.

Whether Batman is fighting the Joker or Two-Face or their ilk is charmingly unrelated to whether he's the grim figure of the night or ribbon-cutting Batman with a platinum police badge. Batman's villains are just as adaptable as he is, and tend to adjust their levels to whatever his are at the time. I've see Two-Face torture victims and steal shipments of chewing gum; I've also seen him act at intermediary between talking statues of Napolean, Caesar, and Benjamin Franklin possessed by alien Dronndarians and the Justice League. Batman's villains are nothing if not adaptable.

At first glance, you'd think fantastical elements in Batman would be inversely correlated to whether he's being all dark and gritty. That's not exactly what happens. If Batman's depiction is set to 'dark levels' it doesn't preclude fantastical elements; it just means that those elements are much more likely to be mystical rather than sci-fi. After all, one the first thing the grim Batman of the early Golden Age does is... fight vampires.

Are there other cycles that Batman goes through in his depiction that have occurred to you...?


Andrew said...

I don't think it's as 'worked out' as the examples you cite above, Scipio, but one slider you might mention is

Detective vs. Muscle

In some incarnations, Batman is "the world's greatest detective", and fights crime with his wits: finding clues, eliminating suspects, working out a villain's plans in advance. In others, he fights mostly with his fists: he simply barrels through windows or from rooftops and funks the crooks up. Like many of the sliders you cite, I think this has a great deal to do with the tastes of the writing staff.

I wonder, does Batman's level of omnicompetence count? Grant Morrison would turn that dial up to 11.

r duncan said...


In the 70s, I developed a 'two-Batman' theory. To me, Batman in "Detective Comics" or "Batman" was clearly a different Batman than the Batman in the Justice League or the Brave and the Bold. In the same month, you might have Batman in Detective claiming he didn't believe in ghosts or aliens, while teaming up with the Spectre in B&B or adventuring with Superman or J'onn J'onz in JLA.

My two-Batman theory made a a lot of sense to me. For example, if Batman is trying to stop a nuke from killing 1000s and he doesn't use his JLA commucator to get "super" help, he MUST live in a non-super world.

My theory extended to certain team-ups in B&B as well. The Batman who teamed up with Green Arrow or Sgt. Rock could be the non-super Batman, as well.

I remember the first time I felt that this "wall" between the super and non-super Batman was breached.
Detective Comics #462. The third part of a three issue series. The writer Bob Rozakis challenged the reader to figure out the true identity of a new villain. There was no hint that this story that any of the recent stories in the series took place in the super-DC universe. But the villain was revealed to be

(do I need a spoiler warning?)

the Flash in disguise. I remember being irritated by this ridiculous cross-over.

I am the only one who thought that this two-Batman policy existed?

Scipio said...

Yes, Detective/Fighter is definitely slider-y; however, it's important to realize that the two are NOT mutually exclusive.

One I haven't mentioned:

Bruce Wayne:

Is Wayne perceived as responsible or irresponsible?

Andrew said...

Fair point on the compatibility of Detective/Fighter modes. If the writer is putting Batman up against the Riddler, then the Detective switch is flipped to ON regardless of the overall tone of the book. Or so I would imagine.

And the reverse, I guess, for Killer Croc.

Perplexio said...

What about the OTHER Batmen... Jean-Paul Valley, Dick Grayson, and Tim Drake (from the future who came back in time to battle with his younger Robin self in Teen Titans)?

Scipio said...

"OTHER Batmen"?

There ARE no other Batmans, Perplexio. Accept no substitutes.

Mandrake said...

Even as an old man he can be interpreted in man ways, there's Dark Knight Returns mad bruiser Batman, Kingdom Come driven-but-creepy Batman, Batman Beyond retired badass Bruce.

And now you've got me watching JLU all over again... happy now? =P

Azrael said...

Scipio is right. I was never really Batman. It's not like the Green Lanterns. Personal experience has shown me that not just anyone can wear that cape and cowl...

Matt I. said...

Hey, Scipio, I don't know how comments work, so I dunno if you'll read an old article's comments, but I've been waiting for your persona cycle continuation for months man. Could you please start it up again?

Scipio said...

Whom did you have in mind, Matt?